Job applications

Cover letter writing is a muscle.

It’s one that you can improve with practice. It’s also one that can atrophy very quickly.

Believe me. I’ve been there. I’ve sat in front of the empty Microsoft Word document fearing that whatever I was about to type would be so stupid.

Photo by flickr user Aaron Cannon:
Photo by flickr user Aaron Cannon
But being able to write a great cover letter for that job that you just saw posted, without spending three weeks agonizing over each word, is important. If you wait three weeks, you’ll almost definitely miss out! So if you’re jobsearching, your cover letter “practice” is as important as your gym routine.

Here’s what BrightPlaces, a career advice blog, has to say about all this:

“We normally don’t read cover letters, we don’t talk about them and we feel relieved once we managed to complete ours. Since we lack the knowledge about what makes a great cover letter we quickly start to feel afraid about the topic.”

What will get rid of the fear? Practice.

I’m not saying you need to sit down and write fake cover letters. That won’t get you very far.

But if you’re jobsearching and see three great opportunities, and then you decide you only have time to apply for one today…stop and think. Maybe you do have time. If you knock out two or three cover letters in a day, even when there’s only artificial time pressure, you’ll get much better at writing fast, so when you do need to be fast, you’re ready.

In November, thousands of writers band together for NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words–the length of a fairly solid novella or a very short novel–within 30 days. That’s about 1,667 words per day if you don’t take any breaks.

The people who succeed at NaNoWriMo have a few things in common. One: they’re all crazy. (I know this from firsthand experience). But two: the only way you can get to 50,000 is to shut up your inner voices that tell you what crap you are and just WRITE. And at the end of it, you have a pretty crap novel (although Water for Elephants was originally a NaNoWriMo novel) but you’ve built up your writing muscles. Super important.

This isn’t an invitation to be sloppy. Don’t forget to proofread. Twice. But it’s an invitation to tell that inner voice to shut up, write, and flex your muscles.